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Sunday, 27 September 2015

Ledaig 10 Whisky Review!

Ledaig is a bit of an underdog, compared to the heavyweights of peated whisky. But the standard 10yo expression is readily available, and very well priced. So let's take a closer look!

Ledaig (pronounced le-chayg) is produced by Tobermory distillery, which is located in the town of the same name, on the Isle of Mull, the northern neighbour of Islay and Jura. The distillery is one of the oldest in Scotland, dating back to 1798, and is the only commercial distillery on Mull.

Tobermory (then known as Ledaig distillery) was one of the victims of the great depression (and prohibition in the US), closing down in 1930, before being revived in 1971. Like many distilleries, it suffered again in the 1980's, to the point where it's warehouse was converted into apartments! But it kept the distillery doors open, until it was snapped up by Burn Stewart Distiller's, in 1993. Who also own Bunnahabhain and Deanston, and are behind the Black Bottle blended whisky.

Apparently, since the warehouse is no longer part of the distillery, Tobermory's whisky is matured at sister distillery Deanston, on the Scottish mainland. But on the positive side, they floor malt and mill their barley on-site, and since 2010, they have not chill filtered or added any colouring to any of their whiskies before bottling, and all are bottled at 46% and above.

Ledaig is the peated version of Tobermory. Or 'wonderfully peated', to quote the label. It isn't quite heavily peated by Islay standards, I would put it somewhere around Ardmore Traditional, or perhaps Caol Ila Moch. So there's still a decent level of peat influence here. The standard 10-year old Ledaig is matured in ex-bourbon casks, and bottled at 46.3%, non-chill filtered and natural colour. There's also an 18-year old (want!) and a whopping 42-year old bottling (call your bank manager!), both of which are finished in sherry casks, and are bottled at around the same strength. The 42 seems to be insanely expensive though, at around $9000 AUD!!! I might have to pass on that one.

Ledaig 10yo, 46.3%, Tobermory distillery. Isle of Mull, Scotland.
'Wonderfully peated', matured in ex-bourbon casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.

Colour: Gold

Nose: Very coastal - salty air, wet sand, brine, dried kelp. Smoked fish, medicinal peat and some iodine. Buttery salted caramel, sweet vanilla. Slightly reminiscent of Laphroaig 10, minus most of the smoke. 

Texture: Medium, but very nice. No heat at all.

Taste: Herbal and salty peat. A little dry, acrid smoke. Chilli pepper and brine, drying driftwood, smoked white fish. Mild wood spice, and sweet vanilla. 

Finish: Medium-long, but becoming soft. Herbal and saline. Toasted wood, salted butter. Dry smoke and roasted nuts. 

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: An engaging and intriguing malt, which is also quite complex. If it had been more expensive, it would've scored slightly lower. But it isn't, so it didn't. Perhaps a little more smoke, and a stronger/heavier finish would be nice, but no matter. It's priced around the same as Ardbeg 10, and they're very similar on paper: natural colour, non-chill filtered, 46%, 10 years old, and nicely peated. The Ardbeg still wins for me, but not by as big a margin as I may have expected! Which speaks volumes for the Ledaig, I think. So, if you're looking for a good value and good quality peat fix, that is also something a little different, look to Ledaig 10yo. 

Tobermory has just re-released a second batch of the 18yo Ledaig, which is Oloroso sherry finished. I'm adding that one to my wish-list! It's quite expensive unfortunately, at around $210 AUD, particularly for the relatively low strength at that price point (46%). But I suspect it's still going to be a winner. 


Sunday, 20 September 2015

Glenglassaugh Torfa Whisky Review!

We're back to the regular whisky reviews for the time being, but we're also off to a new distillery!

Glenglassaugh was founded in 1875, near Portsoy in the Scottish Highlands, and was mothballed (production ceased, skeleton staff only) for over 20 years, in 1986. The distillery started up again, under new owners and after refurbishing, in 2008. The first whisky released under those new owners was the 'revival', in 2012, although there were also releases of 30 and 40 year old malt. Both of those were highly awarded.

Current owners Benriach Distillery Company (who also own Glendronach, and obviously Benriach) purchased the distillery, in 2013. Like it's sister distilleries, Glenglassaugh does not chill filter, or add any artificial colouring, and bottles at 46% and above, for most expressions. Great stuff! It may not be the prettiest distillery, and it may not have the cult status and cult following of it's sisters, but this is effectively a young distillery (younger than Kilchoman, for some perspective!), so the potential is there. 

The Glenglassaugh (pronounced glen-glass-ah) that takes my fancy, and this may not come as a surprise, is their peated expression, named Torfa, basically the Norse word for peat. Peated malts aren't particularly common in the highlands of course, so I was curious to try this one. It's not particularly heavily peated, with the phenol content on the malt coming in at around 20 ppm, but as we know, that little number doesn't always tell us the whole story. It doesn't carry an age statement, and it will be young, both due to the age of the distillery, and the desire for maximum peat influence. But once again, that doesn't tell us the whole story!
Glenglassaugh Torfa, NAS, 50%. Portsoy, Highlands, Scotland.
Non-chill filtered, no added colouring. Peated to 20ppm. 

Colour: Very pale gold. 

Nose: Sour white wine (sauvignon blanc?), spirit-y, very light earthy peat, acetone (nail polish remover). Sweet & sour sauce, fresh barley, under-ripe tropical fruit. 

Texture: Light-medium, spirit-y. 

Taste: Slightly earthy peat, sweet malt, hint of smoke. Quite hot. 

Finish: Short-medium. More heat, earthy peat, hint of malt, tiny hint of smoke. 

Score: 2 out of 5.

Notes: Just too young, in my opinion. Lacking complexity and still quite hot. I wouldn't go so far as to call it rough, but too young suits it. But then, there are plenty of young-very young malts which absolutely smash this one (Kilchoman, and Bruichladdich's Octomore, for example). It did improve slightly during it's time in the glass, and it's not undrinkable by any means. Without that light peat influence though, that may have been a different story... 

Not the best introduction to a new distillery, and perhaps not the best example of the brand either, although it does have potential. I'm still glad to have tried it, by way of a sample purchased from Nippy Sweetie Whiskies. If I had bought a bottle though, I think I'd be quite disappointed. Price-wise, the Torfa is quite a bit more expensive than the entry-level peated malts from higher-profile distilleries. Even sister distillery Benriach offers their 10yo 'Curiositas' (review coming soon) for substantially less money. And I know which one I would rather take home...


Sunday, 13 September 2015

Tasmanian Whisky Adventure, Pt 4: Sullivan's Cove (Tasmania Distillery)

Sullivan's Cove is certainly the most well-known of the Tasmanian whisky brands / distilleries, mostly thanks to it winning some high-profile awards from Jim Murray, and the World Whisky Awards. It's produced by Tasmania distillery, which was the last stop on my Tasmanian adventure before the trip home. And fittingly, this is also the final instalment of my Tasmanian mini-series!

The name 'Sullivan's Cove' relates to the original location of the distillery, in Hobart, and was also the name given to the original settlement which would eventually become Tasmania's capital city. Tasmania distillery was the second to open on the island, in 1995, after Lark distillery opened a few years earlier. The distillery had a tumultuous beginning, after the original owner was basically caught out using misleading and false advertising, while the distillery was in it's infancy.

The distillery moved in 2003, under new ownership, relocating to Cambridge, near Hobart international airport. While the shed is fairly nondescript from the outside, the actual visitor's centre / cellar door is very nicely decked out, and the warehouse smells delicious, thanks to the 900+ casks maturing quietly on-site.

Tasmania distillery is still quite a small operation. Not including the other spirits they're producing (which we're not interested in), they're only producing around 18,000 bottles of finished whisky each year, and that's after water is added. They only produce three expressions / bottling's of their whisky these days, although they've been in the press recently for offering a $10,000 bottle of whisky. No, that's not a typo...

Their main award-winner is the 'French Oak' expression, on the left in the above photo, which is matured in Australian Port casks, sourced mostly from McWilliam's. It's also very expensive, at $350 direct from the distillery. The 'American Oak' expression, centre in the above photo, is matured in bourbon barrels, sourced from Jim Beam, Heaven Hill or Jack Daniels, and is more reasonable at around $220. Both are bottled at 47.5%, and generally contain 12-15yo whisky. Those two are actually single-cask bottling's, while the third expression, 'Double Cask', on the right, is a mix of both cask-types (which didn't make the cut for the single cask bottlings), and is bottled at 40%, at an unknown age. Naturally it is the least expensive, at around $160.

Sullivan's Cove produces a little differently to the other distilleries I've seen so far, in that they buy in their wash (the rudimentary beer the whisky is distilled from), pre-made, from local a couple of local breweries. The majority is from from Cascade brewery, but they've also started buying from the smaller 'Moo Brew' brewery recently. Both are located in Hobart, and are using Tasmanian ingredients.

Their 21 year old still (pictured above left) is actually based on a French brandy still, hence it's unusual shape. The distillery utilises another unusual method for collection, using a system of pipes, taps and collection tanks to re-route the low wines back through the still, and then to separate the foreshots, heart, and feints. Essentially this clever system takes the place of a spirit safe, and I imagine it saves quite a bit of time and labour over the manual methods. For each 12,000 litres of wash bought in, they end up with around 1,000 litres of new-make spirit at around 68% abv. It's then watered down to the 63.4%, using filtered town water (which is very clean in Tasmania), before being filled into the waiting French or American oak casks.

Another interesting and unusual process (are you sensing a theme here?), is the way the distillery uses their settling / decanting tanks. The casks are emptied into large plastic tanks / vats, and are left for 1-2 weeks, until the whisky has settled. Or more specifically, until the floc (fats, oils and proteins in the whisky) has settled towards the bottom of the tank. The whisky is then pumped from the top of the tank, ready for bottling by hand. This is a slower method of course, but it avoids the need for any filtration.

So what happens to the leftovers at the bottom of these tanks? It's drained into the 20L casks pictured above, after barrier filtration (but not chill filtration) through paper filters. These casks are for sale, and are priced at $4250-4750 depending on your choice of whisky. They're matured for two years at the distillery, before being bottled at 47.5% and shipped to the owner, along with the empty cask. Each cask produces 25-30 bottles after the angel's have taken their share, and once watered down. So one of these casks can be quite the saving, or quite the investment, depending on your point of view!

I've chosen to review Sullivan's Coves' American Oak expression, because it's easier to find, and significantly cheaper, than the French Oak, which get's more attention. I couldn't get a sample or small bottle of any expression, so this one was tasted and reviewed at a bar in Brisbane (the Naked whisky bar).
Sullivan's Cove American Oak, 14yr old, 47.5%. Tasmania, Australia.
Tasmania distillery. Non-chill filtered, no added colouring. Cask HH032, distilled 5/2000, bottled 2/2015._

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Sweet vanilla syrup, slightly spicy, a little creamy oak. Honeyed malt. Roasted pineapple. 

Texture: Medium, with a little heat. 

Taste: Syrup again, but less sweet than the nose. More oak, and more spice. Some heat there as well. Water brings out creamy vanilla, and some hay. 

Finish: Medium length, some heat again. Honeyed malt. 

Score: 3 out of 5. Dram reviewed at a bar.

Notes: Not mind-blowing for me, in fact I remember the American Oak we had at the distillery tasting left a better impression. But then that's the beauty, and the curse, of single cask whiskies: Each one is different.

I do prefer the French oak bottling to this one, like most people I have spoken to, but it's just too expensive, in my opinion. The distillery itself is selling it for $350 a bottle, and it is usually priced at around $400 elsewhere. The European oak casks are of course more expensive to buy than ex-bourbon American oak barrels, and the distillery has to take advantage of the world-wide acclaim the French Oak expression is enjoying. It is a business after all, and a relatively small one at that. 

The American Oak expression isn't cheap either, at around $220, and let's not forget these aren't available at cask strength. The 'double cask' is just overpriced at $160-ish, and that one is a 40%, NAS, 'marriage' of casks, which basically weren't up to par to be sold as single cask bottling's. At that sort of price point, it has some serious competition, and can't keep up. There are many factors involved in the pricing of course, from the small size of the distillery, to the huge demand for it's world-renowned whisky, and the ridiculous taxes and duty being charged by an over-active, narrow-minded, and just plain greedy government.

This is quite a small distillery though. You might even get away with calling it a craft distillery. Let's not forget they're making mostly single-cask whiskies, which are bottled and packed on-site, by hand, with no added colouring or chill filtration, at a reasonable strength. They're also producing a vodka, for an external company to market and sell. The distillery tour itself was very informative, catering for all levels of knowledge (and interest), and was quite well priced, considering the included tasting of all three Sullivan's Cove whiskies. 

So that's the last of my Tasmanian whisky adventure mini-series. I did also visit and tour Redland's Estate distillery (pictured above) but their first-release whisky was not yet ready, and has since sold for crazy money. They're one of the few distilleries in the world which are doing everything on-site, from 'paddock-to-bottle', including growing and malting their own barley. I did also taste their new-make spirit, albeit watered down to 50%, and it's very promising. Certainly one to look for when it starts appearing on the shelves.

Unfortunately I completely missed out on visiting Lark, Overeem (Old Hobart), William McHenry, and Belgrove distilleries, due to time constraints, and out of (a little) consideration for my non-whisky nerd travelling-companions. Plenty to do on the next trip, then...

I still stand by my earlier statement though, if you're looking for a bang-for-buck Tasmanian whisky, look to Heartwood. It's still not exactly cheap, and the bottles are smaller (which also helps with pricing), but you're getting excellent quality whisky, and crucially, you're getting it at it's true cask strength. All good (!).

Speaking of bang-for-buck, if you do visit Tasmania, I highly recommend visiting the Lark cellar door / bar in Hobart. They have a very good range of whisky, including some pretty rare stuff. You also have the option of buying those whiskies in half-nips, which is just a brilliant idea. I do wish more high-end whisky bars would follow suit. They'd only end up selling more of their high-end whisky, after all!

Overall, Tasmania is one amazing and beautiful island. My wife & I were both totally enamoured with the place, and could live there in a heart-beat. I highly recommend visiting, although perhaps not in the middle of winter. Then again, it is the ideal season for drinking plenty of whisky...


Sunday, 6 September 2015

Tasmanian Whisky Adventure, Pt 3: Hellyer's Road Distillery

Hellyer's Road is one of the more well known Tasmanian distilleries, even more so in export markets, and is actually the largest single malt distillery in Australia. That said, you'll find it on top of a hill, down a driveway, in a residential street! It's located in Burnie, which is around 4.5 hours drive North-West from Hobart, through Launceston and Devonport. 

Their large size (by Australian / Tasmanian standards), and the fact that they are owned by Betta milk, a large Tasmanian dairy company, means that they can sell their whiskies at quite low prices. Their standard 10-year old bottling is around $80, which is very cheap for an Australian whisky. They're making their whisky from local Tasmanian barley, which is malted in nearby Devonport, and filtered town water, which is already very clean in Tasmania. All of their single malts are non-chill filtered, and are bottled on-site, at 46.2% or higher, without any added colouring.      

I must admit that I'm not a big fan of their 10 year-old or 'original' expressions. However, their 12-year old and peated bottling's, and their new port cask expression in particular, are enjoyable. The range is very keenly priced, with most coming in at under $100, making it some of the cheapest Australian single malt whisky you can buy. 

Hellyer's Road isn't what you would call a traditional distillery, by any means. Created as a diversifying venture for the aforementioned dairy company in 2003, you won't find any polished copper stills, malting floors or wooden wash backs here. In fact, the only copper you'll see is in the onion, lyne arm, and condenser on the (huge) stills, everything else is stainless steel. Yes, even the bodies of the stills. 

The distillery only has three full-time employees, thanks to the majority of the production process being computerised. It can even be controlled remotely! But then they're not trying to be traditional, they're trying to produce a keenly priced Australian single malt, which is what they're doing.

Until recently, the distillery had only been filling first-fill casks, of a variety of types. Their bourbon casks are sourced mostly from Jack Daniels, and you'll also find Tasmanian pinot-noir casks, Australian port casks, and some recently filled PX sherry casks sitting on the racks in their warehouse. However, they've tested using refill casks and apparently found minimal difference, so will be switching to those for some of their malts. Obviously this is a much cheaper way of doing things, so it'll be interesting to see how it goes.

It's important to note that while Hellyer's are one of the few distilleries in Tasmania that are currently selling peated whisky (the others are Lark & Belgrove), they're also the only one which is importing their peated barley from Scotland. This gives their peated malt a more familiar flavour than those made using Tasmanian peat, which is more delicate and floral than some may expect, particularly when compared to Islay. Hellyer's peated malt is actually lightly peated by ppm standards, but it's quite prominent in the finished whisky.

This being the first distillery visit during the trip, I also couldn't pass up buying a pretty special bottling of their whisky. Hellyer's Road offers what they call 'distiller's choice' casks at the distillery, which punters can bottle their own whisky from during the tour. They currently offer up a peated and an un-peated cask, at cask strength, and non-chill filtered & natural colour. You also taste both of these casks during the tour, then have the choice of buying & filling a bottle. Hellyer's is the only single malt distillery in Tasmania which is doing this, at least to my knowledge. The others should really get on board! 

Naturally I chose the peated 'distiller's choice' cask pictured above, which was an 11+ year old bourbon cask, at 64.3%. You also get to wax-seal the bottle yourself (over a plastic screw cap) and they give you a certificate, which may be a little gimmicky, but is still pretty cool. I should add that this special bottle came in at a bargain price of just $93, albeit only in a 500ml bottle. The un-peated cask was around 66% from memory, and was priced only a few dollars higher. Not bad at all.

I've chosen to review two different expressions of Hellyer's Road whisky, for your viewing pleasure. One is un-peated, their pinot noir finished bottling, made from local Tasmanian barley, and the other is their peated bottling, matured in bourbon casks, and is made from the imported peated Scottish barley. So this is a good comparison of something a little weird, and something a little more familiar.
Hellyer's Road Pinot Noir Finish, NAS, 46.2%. Tasmania, Australia.
Matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, finished in first-fill French oak casks, which previously held Tasmanian pinot noir, for an undisclosed period of time. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 

Colour: Gold with pink tinge.

Nose: Waxy fruits - apple, banana, red grapes. Fresh barley. Sour, yeasty bread, floral soap. Mild tannins.

Texture: Decent weight / mouth-feel, but a little rough.

Taste: A fair bit of heat, still there with every sip. Dry oak & spice, mild tannins. Musty red grapes. 

Finish: Very short, slightly bitter, light malt. 

Score: 1.5 out of 5. Not undrinkable, but not diggin' it. 

Notes: Add this one to the list of Hellyer's I don't like (with the original and 10yo). The nose is quite different and interesting, and enjoyable. The taste, not so much. And the finish is basically not there. I should have reviewed the port expression instead of this one, but couldn't get a sample of it. I Tasted it at the distillery though, and was very impressed. Even their 12yo is a better representation than this one, I think.

Hellyer's Road Peated, NAS, 46.2%. Tasmania, Australia.
Supposedly around 8 years old, matured in ex-bourbon casks. Made using imported Scottish peated barley, sourced from Inverness (Baird's?). Non-chill filtered, natural colour.

Colour: Pale gold.

Nose: Sour, earthy peat, a little smoke and ash. Slightly soapy and rubbery. 

Texture: Similar to the pinot, but without most of the roughness. Pleasant. 

Taste: Peat again, but it's less sour than on the nose, and a little spicy now. Dry smoke, a touch of sweetness. Not much else. Enjoyable though, almost an Islay-style peat influence here. 

Finish: Medium. Dry earthy peat, some ash, then camp fire smoke. Slight hints of vanilla and buttery oak.

Score: 2.5 out of 5. 

Notes: Much better than the pinot, to my palate anyway. Lacking complexity though, the peat is the only strong player in this one. A nice, easy drinking peated malt, but despite being one of the cheapest Australian single malts you can buy, it's still more expensive than the great 'entry-level' Islay's. Compared to the likes of Ardbeg 10, Lagavulin 16, or Laphroaig 10yo / quarter cask, the Hellyer's just can't compete. At all. 

Conclusion: Obviously, I preferred the peated expression to the pinot, but I have to say I don't think either of these is a far representation of what Hellyer's Road Distillery is capable of. I tasted both of the 'distiller's choice' expressions at cask strength, and the port matured (matured, not finished) expression, at the distillery, and they were excellent malts. How about a cask strength release, guys?

The same goes for Tasmanian barley (in the pinot) vs. imported Scottish barley (in the peated). There are many excellent Tasmanian malts, all of which are representing the quality of the local ingredients. Not at this sort of price point, though. If you're looking for an Australian single malt at this sort of price, look towards the stars, with starward!

As for Hellyer's Road single malts which you can find on the shelves, I'd definitely recommend looking for the port cask bottling. It's bottled at a slightly higher strength (48.9%), and is fully matured in ex-Australian port casks. Unfortunately it's significantly more expensive than all the others, at around $160, and is also a little more rare. Only 430 bottles were made in this first batch, but it's well worth looking for. I'm hoping it becomes part of their permanent range, or at least hangs around for a few more batches. Fingers crossed!